There has been a drastic change in the Japanese games market that has crossed the seas into Western markets and is now prevalent in many other markets as well.
Since February 2012, the Japanese market has seen social card games frequenting the top charts on the Apple App Store.
Shortly after this, a new type of game featuring a mix of puzzle and card battling appeared, and challenged the norm - GungHo's Puzzle & Dragons.
Featuring a superb user interface and interactive graphics, it rose to the top of the top grossing App Store charts.
It was followed by other successful titles such as Dark Summoner (released 24 February 2012) and Million Arthur (released 9 April 2012).
Ateam, the developer of Dark Summoner, released its title looking at the global market. Meanwhile, Square Enix, the developer of Million Arthur, has advanced into the social game industry from console games, creating a story-based game with beautiful graphics and engaging background music.
Then in July 2012, our sister company Applibot exported its Legend of Monsters (below) title into the Japan market from the US. We've also seen a lot of card battle games, including Cygames' Rage of Bahamut, ramping up their quality.
Now, we have reached an era of coexistence; Japanese apps are going into the global market, global apps are coming to the Japanese market, and all mobile games are able to monetize everywhere.
Throw MMORPG elements into the equation, and users can now gather with their friends and battle against their enemies. Before this, most card game battles were single player, and thus, players were not able to enjoy battling with their friends outside of real-time events.
New challenges for developers
Developers find this genre very challenging. Not only is it difficult to operate properly but there is a heavy load on servers and networks, not to mention matching guilds who are similar in level to each other in real-time events across the network.
But it's not just about the network.
After Puzzle & Dragons entered the market, there has been a big increase in the number of card games, and those with beautiful graphics have gained more of the spotlight.
That's not all. By the end of 2012, the popular LINE communication tool began to release its own social gaming apps. This gaming platform covers a wide category from casual matching puzzle games to mid-core card games.
And now in 2013, global developers are pursuing their success in the lucrative Japanese market.
Supercell's Clash of Clans has been climbing the Japanese App Store. Meanwhile King's Candy Crush Saga is dominating the world mobile game market and is making a splash in Japan too.
What's big in Japan?
Let's examine more broadly what's monetizing successfully in Japan right now.
It is clear that the freemium model is driving success in Japan, and has been so for a number of years.
- In Japan in 2011, the top grossing top 100 consisted of 36 paid apps and 64 free apps.
- In 2012, this had changed to 7 paid apps and 93 free apps.
- In comparison, in the US in 2011, there were 43 paid apps and 57 free apps in the top grossing top 100.
- By the end of 2012, this had changed to 26 paid apps and 74 free apps.
The Japanese market is also more game-focused than the US.
- On June 28th, 94 of the top 100 top grossing apps in Japan were games.
- In the US on the same date, the figure was 79 games.
The Japanese market is dominated by Japanese developers though. On the 28 June, 96 of the top 100 top grossing games were from Japanese studios.
As well as Finland's Supercell and UK/Sweden's King, other international developers doing well in Japan include Russian developer Social Quantum Megapolis and the Chinese-developed Master of Chaos.
Our conclusion is success in the Japanese market comes down to this question; how can developers manage efficient user acquisition in Japan and get to the top?
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